Its winter so its time to put away the Rose and get out your reds. Its the season for bold spicy red wine, woolly jumpers, roaring fireplaces and cozy dark evenings. My favorite time of the year.
So let’s look at the region of Bordeaux, famous for its big-name wineries (think Petrus, Lafite, Latour etc), and delicious wines. It is the largest wine producing region in France, turning out 900 million bottles on average each year, mostly red (around 90%). One of the most expensive wines ever sold comes from Bordeaux, from the collection of Thomas Jefferson (Yes! THE Thomas Jefferson), a 1787 Chateau Lafite, sold for approx 156, 000 USD, that’s 135,000 EUR! It was 200 years old. It was pipped to the post by a 1787 Chateau Margeaux as the most expensive wine ever sold. (seems like 1787 was a good year).
Why do us wine drinkers fascinate and fantasize over Bordeaux?
Bordeaux and its wines are famous worldwide, with many new world wines drawing inspiration from there (see my rant about this in Enough French Style wine). The city of Bordeaux has been producing fine wines since the first century AD (impressive right?!) and has long been hailed as the holy grail of viticulture.
The wine of the region grew fashionable with the royalty and aristocracy of Old Europe, with money being pumped into the various traditional wineries of the region in order to continue growing vines and producing the wines which people were beginning to develop a taste for. These wines were always characterful, and the wineries were highly successful due to the perfect climatic conditions for viticulture. This, coupled with healthy trade and international interest, saw Bordeaux wines rise to the very highest tables in the land, where it has remained ever since.
But what is it that set Bordeaux apart from other regions?
well, for starters, Its climate and terroir. It has perfect weather and soil – its’ warm, temperate climate with cooling sea breezes provide the optimum ripening period for grapes. Its proximity to the Garonne river also allowed for trade and transport of wine.
Many of these perfectly ripe grapes make their way into the Bordeaux Blend. Perhaps the best-known blend in the world, and certainly up there with Champagne and the GSM blend. There are a number of grapes that are allowed to be used in Bordeaux Red Blends.
Do you know your left from your right?
Left bank, Right bank, which bank is better? Bordeaux is split by the Garonne river, the region on the left of the river banks produces Cab Sav heavy wines, while the right focuses on Merlot. The left bank is where you find all the highly prized first growth wines, while the right is home to the equally prized and respected Petrus, and Cheval Blanc. There have been arguments over which side is the best, but it all comes down to your taste.
The lefties: Home to the big boys Pauillac, St. Estephe, Margaux, St. Julien, Moulis, Listrac, Haut Medoc and the Medoc. The terroir here is gravel and clay, which produces elegant and incredibly firm and structured wine. Being Cab Sav forward they are spicy, earthy with touches of blackcurrants. This side of the tracks has produced wines that can be aged for decades. The very best Chateau produce(d) vintages that have aged/can age for a century! Chateau Yquem is also produced on the left side, in Graves and has long been hailed magnificent for its incredibly age-worthy noble rot Sauternes wine.
The righties: St Emilion and Pomerol call this region theirs, grown on clay and limestone, the vine of choice here is Merlot. St Emilion was one of the first wine to be exported out of the Region, all the way to the wedding banquet of the then King of England, Henry 1. Right bank wines tend to be softer than their left bank brothers, often with floral, plum and a touch of chocolate on the palate. In their best vintages, wines from the right bank have just as much aging potential as their neighboring left bank Cab Sav.
Is it worth the Hype:
Depends on what you like. I personally think that the whole first growth categories are a bit outdated, and wines that are given this stature are worshipped. It is also well known that some of the lesser growths, second and Third such as Lynch Bages are just as good if not better then the first growths. However, even these are inaccessible for the daily drinker like me. I have resigned myself to the category of people who will only ever read about these legendary wines. And, I am ok with that (although I was lucky enough to try at ’67 Chateau Yquem).
You can pick up great value Bordeaux wines for under 20 euros, and they will be age-worthy (to a certain extent) and drinkable. So, crack on with Bordeaux and drink in its delicious richness. Whether you are a leftie or a rightie, enjoy this festive season with good wine and good company.